Spongebob for sponge paint

I knew something was amiss when the knickknacks — the small bowls, colorful vases, even an unused incense burner — mysteriously appeared in my living room.

It could only mean one thing: My 10-year-old daughter was watching too much HGTV again.

A friend's three daughters are similarly fixated, ignoring popular television for HGTV's "Landscapers' Challenge" and "If Walls Could Talk," a favorite of Hope's that blends history and intrigue into a storyline that may sound like a yawner on paper — we're talking about a house here — but captivates the children.

"My kids have never seen 'American Idol.' There's nothing wrong with that show, but my kids are so off the grid, it's hilarious," says my friend, Sloane Given. Given's 7-year-old, Lyle, also has taken that next step: Like Hope, she inserts her two cents into her parents' design projects for their suburban home. Recently, Lyle's attention was directed to the back yard.

"When we did our landscaping project this year, Lyle was so into it," says Given. "She wanted to see the plans, she wanted to walk around with the architect and she wanted to help pick out plants."

When Given forgot to include lupines in the yard at Lyle's request, she ran out and bought two for the girl's next birthday.

"What child gets lupine plants for her birthday?" muses Given.

Lyle's opinions run from plant species to paint chips, from furniture layout to the value of granite countertops. Her mom says it's all thanks to the design shows on HGTV and TLC.

Lori Coens, of Overland Park, Kan., has an 8-year-old son, Dylan, and an 11-year-old daughter, Hayden, who watch the design shows.

"It's better than SpongeBob," says Coens, referring to the popular children's cartoon on Nickelodeon.

The only problem is sometimes Dylan wants to duplicate what he sees on television, "and I'm not going to put a two-story slide in his bedroom," says Coens, an interior decorator.

Both Given's daughter and my own have unleashed their design tastes in their respective bedrooms, arranging and rearranging their possessions — some so very tiny, as one finds in children's bedrooms — to suit their changing tastes.

Family therapist Karl Rosston, of Helena, Mont., supports kids having a space to call their own, but he says parents also need to give their children design control over that space, within reason.

"It's important for parents to provide some guidelines and some structure to it, but not too much," he says.

For example, Rosston, who has two children, ages 9 and 11, recommends allowing younger kids to pick out their room colors. Teenagers can have greater say.

"The role for us, as parents, is to help our children to develop a sense of accountability and ownership of their actions," says Rosston. "One of the first ways to do that is to give them that opportunity to create something, and then they own it. And their rooms are a wonderful way for them to do that."

It also helps children develop a sense of independence, says Rosston, but parents need to avoid criticizing their kids' decisions, and not just with room redos.

Given approves of her children's home-improvement television fix, and even has nurtured it along the way.

"I'd rather have (Lyle) yammering on about paint colors than repeating some naughty music she's learned somewhere," says Given.

In my own life, I'm careful to quietly return an unwanted object to the storage room and to herald any particularly clever decorating idea that my daughter Hope devises.

The interesting part? She's got more hits than misses. The carefully arranged rocks in a wooden bowl atop the stacked art books? Love it.

I can't help wondering what that says about her mother's design style.

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